Denise Scruggs poses on her ship in the Atlantic Ocean during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. (Photo courtesy of Scruggs)

Navy veteran retires after 20 years of teaching at Country Day

“I look back at my years in this wonderful place with great fondness,” middle school math teacher Denise Scruggs said of her 20 years at Country Day.

Scruggs, who will retire at the end of the school year, said her favorite part of teaching is her students’ growth.

“It always makes me happy when my students come to visit; the graduating class is special because I got to teach them in both fifth and eighth grade,” Scruggs said.

“I love the connections we get to make with our students, and if we’re lucky enough, we get to see them after they’ve graduated. Some of my students see me when they’re 30, and it warms my heart.”

However, Scruggs said she won’t miss grading.

“I’m sure every teacher feels this way, but I wish I could give every student 100%,” she said with a laugh.

Head of middle school Rommel Loria said he will miss Scruggs.

“She has been here for a lot longer than I have,” Loria said. “She deserves (her retirement). She works really hard and cares a lot about her students and teaching. She always speaks about her students with a lot of care and thought.”

Before becoming a teacher, Scruggs served in the United States Navy for 20 years, starting in 1977 when she was 23.

She worked in electronics, repairing communication equipment on ships.

Scruggs said her experience in the Navy has helped her teach.

“I met and worked with so many different people and have been to so many different places, so it makes me more patient, understanding and open to everyone’s backgrounds and cultures, especially because Country Day is very diverse,” Scruggs said. “Also, if I teach a concept, and I remember a moment in the Navy which relates to it, I like to narrate the story as I teach the concept.”

While Scruggs was in the Navy, she earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Saint Leo in Florida.

After earning her degree, Scruggs retired from the Navy to start a family.

“After 17 years of being in the service, I was talking to my husband and considered having a baby,” she said. 

Scruggs has one daughter, Brianna, who is now 26.

Soon after that, Scruggs was admitted into a Navy-sponsored program called Troops to Teachers. Through this, she earned her master’s degree in education from Old Dominion University in Virginia, where she had been stationed. 

“We decided to move out to Sacramento because that’s where my husband’s from, so I started looking for teaching positions here,” Scruggs said.

“Because my credentials were from Virginia, it was really hard for me to find a teaching job. In fact, I had to take extra credits for schools to be able to hire me.”

She said she saw a newspaper advertisement for Country Day.

“I was looking for math positions at private schools because they’re easier to apply to than the public school system,” Scruggs said.

She interviewed with the head of lower school at that time, Barbara Ore, and the fifth grade math teacher, Laura Monahan. A few days later, Ore hired her as the fourth grade math teacher.

“My daughter was 4 when I was employed here,” Scruggs said. “She went here for all of lower school.”

“I love the connections we get to make with our students, and if we’re lucky enough, we get to see them after they’ve graduated.”

— Denise Scruggs

Scruggs taught fourth grade for three years before moving to sixth grade.

“I wanted to teach higher-level math, so I stayed there for about two years,” she said.

Scruggs then taught seventh graders for seven years.

“A seventh grade position freed up, and I wanted to take it,” Scruggs said. “I really enjoy teaching algebra and geometry. When I was in high school, (they) were my favorite subjects because there’s either a right or a wrong answer.”

She then took a brief break from teaching to work in school administration.

“I took administration classes and got a job as a principal at Brookfield for three years, but then I decided I wanted to go back to a classroom,” Scruggs said. “As a principal, you have to deal with all of the problems. As a teacher, (you) get to laugh with your students and have the best of times.”

Scruggs got a job at Sierra Oaks K-8 as a seventh grade math and science teacher for a year.

“And then the headmaster at the time, (Stephen Repsher), called me and asked me to return to Country Day,” Scruggs said. “He offered me a math and science job for fifth grade, (which) I taught for five years.”

She finally moved to eighth grade math, which she has taught for the last eight years.

Scruggs attended a 1996 ceremony for the new captain on her ship. She wore her full dress uniform with her medals. (Photo courtesy of Scruggs)

Eighth grader Riley Ta said Scruggs “explains everything super well. And even if we don’t understand a concept, you can always ask her, and she will go out of her way to make sure it’s clear to you.”

Eighth grader Delsyn Beaton agreed with Ta.

“(Scruggs) is energetic and nice,” Beaton said. “She also had such a cool life in the Navy. I’m always very interested to hear her stories in class.”

Loria said Lauren Davis of Nashville, Tennessee, will replace Scruggs.

“She has taught at multiple schools even though it’s early in her career,” Loria said. “We wanted to hire someone who had the same amount of passion for math as (Scruggs).”

Scruggs plans to travel with her husband. 

“I’ve been working for 40 years, and my husband recently retired as well,” Scruggs said. “When I was in the Navy, we traveled a lot, and one of my favorite places was Italy, so I’m hoping to go back there sometime soon. 

“I was actually born in Germany, but we left when I was a child, so I’m hoping to revisit before it’s too late — it’s definitely on my bucket list.”

However, Scruggs won’t leave Country Day altogether.

“I’m still going to sign up to be a substitute teacher,” she said. “I’ll miss this place too much!”

By Sanjana Anand

Originally published in the May 26 edition of the Octagon.